In not-even-remotely shocking news, the Detroit Free Press reported this past week that Enbridge knew about damaged protective coating on Line 5 for years before divulging that information to Michigan state officials. In response, some of those state officials are pretending like this is an unexpected breach of trust. Here, for example, is Valerie Brader, co-chair of the state’s Pipeline Advisory Board:
“We are deeply disappointed that Enbridge did not tell the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board in March the whole story about Line 5 coating deficiencies. . . “Enbridge owes the people of Michigan, the Advisory Board and the State an apology. This issue is too important to the people of Michigan to not tell the truth in a timely manner, and right now any trust we had in Enbridge has been seriously eroded.”
And here is the tough-talking-do-nothing Attorney General Bill Schuette:
“This latest revelation by Enbridge means that the faith and trust Michigan has placed in Enbridge has reached an even lower level. . . Enbridge needs to do more than apologize, Enbridge owes the citizens of Michigan a full and complete explanation of why they failed to truthfully report the status of the pipeline.”
How Brader or anyone else could have had any trust at all in Enbridge at this point is hard to fathom (as I explain below). And exactly what it is Schuette is asking for is anybody’s guess (what good is providing a detailed account of why they lied going to do?).
In fairness, not everybody was quite so shocked. The National Wildlife Federation’s Mike Shirberg, for example, knows the score:
“The fact that Enbridge has known about these breaks in coating for years is, unfortunately, less surprising than it ought to be,” Shriberg said in a statement. “It seems every month there is a new revelation about the deteriorating condition of Line 5 and Enbridge’s lack of transparency.”
Shirberg is right of course, but even his memory doesn’t reach back quite far enough. The really troubling thing about this latest example of Enbridge’s untrustworthiness is just how uncannily it reprises the circumstances that led to the infamous Line 6B rupture in Marshall in 2010—and that should worry everybody. On this blog, I’ve rehearsed the findings of the NTSB report on that spill more times than I can count. Every Michigander should know this history backwards and forwards. But for now, it’s worth recalling two of those findings in particular:
First, the NTSB report revealed that Enbridge knew about problems with Line 6B for years, but repeatedly determined that the defects their tests revealed did not pose any real threat. Thus the NTSB criticized them for: “Deficient integrity management procedures, which allowed well-documented crack defects in corroded areas to propagate until the pipeline failed.”
Secondly, Enbridge failed to communicate effectively with the public and first responders, which ultimately made the spill much, much worse than it otherwise might have been. That is, the NTSB criticized Enbridge for “Insufficient public awareness and education, which allowed the release to continue for nearly 14 hours after the first notification of an odor to local emergency response agencies.”
The NTSB attributed both of these failures to what it called Enbridge’s “culture of deviance” from its own safety processes and procedures.
So what does Enbridge have to say in response to this latest discovery on Line 5? Here’s their spokesman Patrick Duffy:
“The coating damage was determined not to present any threat to the safety of the pipeline at any time,” he said.
“We regret that this miscommunication may have caused confusion for state officials and the public. We are committed to being transparent on all matters related to the safe operations of our pipelines in Michigan.”
You read that right. Just like with Line 6B, Enbridge didn’t bother telling anybody about the defects they discovered on Line 5 because they determined internally that those defects aren’t a problem. And just like with Line 6B they failed to communicate honestly and openly with the public and local officials. So here we are again. This is not a disappointment or a breach of trust. This is a pattern of behavior that runs very deep.
What makes all of this even worse is that Enbridge has for the past 5 years taken every opportunity to tell us all how very much they have learned from the Marshall spill (even though history shows they don’t learn from their mistakes), how it’s something they’ll never forget (even though they can’t even tell the truth about when it happened) and how much it has transformed the company (despite so much evidence to the contrary— and more and more— including this latest). But despite all the lip service and weird fetishistic iconography they’ve created to convince us that they’ve changed, their actions suggest otherwise.
And this leaves Patrick Duffy uttering nonsense the likes of which is probably making even our old friend Larry Springer blush. Duffy maintains that the company didn’t know about the missing coating in March. But he also concedes that the company’s engineers did know. Asked why officials told the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board there were no areas of exposed metal on Line 5, Duffy says such “statements were accurate to the best of their awareness”– whatever that means. He then chalks the whole thing up to “an internal reporting issue” before gaslighting the whole state, implying that concerns about exposed steel are just overreaction: “Enbridge has come to recognize that issues which do not present a threat to the safety of the pipeline can still present a strong concern to Michigan,” he says, promising that “we are adjusting our communication approach accordingly.” (Whatever that last statement means, I’m quite sure it’s not “we will tell the truth next time.”) You don’t have to be a professional psychologist to recognize this as the sort of incoherent gibberish a person generates when they’re completely full of shit.
It’s not clear what the state will do in the face of this completely predictable revelation. Unfortunately, my best guess is that the state won’t do much at all. But whatever the case, it’s long past time we should accept anyone– elected officials, members of the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, reporters, or anyone else paying the slightest attention– pretending to find Enbridge’s mistakes, missteps, misinformation, or misleading information to be anything other than business as usual.
This just in: the state of Michigan has terminated the contract of the firm hired to perform a risk assessment of Line 5. The reason? Conflict of interest. From the MDEQ press release:
Within the past month, the state’s project team became aware that an employee who had worked on the risk analysis at DNV GL subsequently worked on another project for Enbridge Energy Co., Inc., which owns the Line 5 pipeline, while the risk analysis was being completed. This is a violation of conflict of interest prohibitions contained in the contract.
It’s not clear how the state learned about this so late in the game. Nor is it clear why or how Enbridge would go out of its way to sink the assessment report. What does seem clear is that Enbridge continues to do everything it can to make it impossible for anyone to trust them. Who was it who recently said you can’t believe anything they say?
Update: Keith Matheny at the Detroit Free Press has more on the story, including a typically evasive statement from Attorney General Schuette delivered by way of an obfuscatory passive construction: “our trust was violated” (by whom he does not say). An Enbridge spokesman also weighs in, stating that they “are investigting what may have happened in the contracting process.” I’m not sure what that means either, but Enbridge’s apparent inability to keep track of such important matters does little to inspire confidence.
You probably won’t hear about it much in the news, given recent events in the national political arena, but two very bad regulatory decisions were made here in Michigan this week that ought to alarm you. Both of them could significantly weaken local authority—like efforts to protect sensitive natural resources— in matters involving energy infrastructure.
If you’re a fellow Line 6b landowner, you may be apt to experience a disturbing flashback, as I did. So brace yourself. You might recall that one of the prolonged controversies during the “replacement” had to do with the question of whether Enbridge was required to comply with local ordinances or obtain local consent for their work as stipulated by the Michigan constitution. I wrote about this on a number of occasions. Well, this week, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling on a very similar question. In effect, the decisions says that the Michigan Public Service Commission (you remember them, right), comprised of political appointees who are in no way accountable to voters, can preempt ordinances passed by democratically elected local officials.
Here’s the story: over in Oshtemo Township near Kalamazoo, a utility company called the Michigan Electric Transmission Company (METC) wanted to install a new electrical transmission line. In keeping with practices by now all-too-familiar, the company failed to communicate openly with local officials—despite repeated requests from township officials—and provided the township with very little information about the project, including about things as basic as routing. Unable to obtain precise information from METC and undertandably concerned about its natural resources, the township then passed an ordinance requiring the transmission line to be buried underground where it passes through the village. METC ignored this ordinance and applied for a certificate from the MPSC anyway.
On the question of the compliance with the ordinance, the Administrative Law Judge in the case sided with Oshtemo Township. The MPSC, however, disagreed with the ALJ and insisted that their own decision effectively overrode the authority of the Oshtemo ordinance. Here is what the MPSC said:
The Staff argues that the purpose of the Oshtemo ordinance was to usurp Commission authority and create an obstacle to the construction of the project. The Staff reiterates its opposition to enforcement and further disagrees with the ALJ’s recommendation that the Commission condition the CPCN on a requirement that METC underground a portion of its line as required by the ordinance.
Note that the Commission’s primary concern is with its own “authority,” not the will of the people (of Osthemo Township), the legitimacy of statutes passed by democratically elected officials, nor the protection of the township’s natural resources. Sound familiar?
So this week, the Michigan Supreme Court heard the township’s appeal on this matter (which was supported, it’s worth noting, by the Michigan Townships Association, which certainly understood the stakes of the matter) and sided with the MPSC. What that means is that a few—and I mean literally a few: THREE, to be precise—unelected, industry-friendly regulators who, history shows, have very little interest in actually regulating the behaviors and actions of large companies like METC (and Enbridge and Energy Transfer) or in protecting the citizens they are ostensibly appointed to serve get to dictate energy and right-of-way policy over and above the actions of elected officials in every single community across the state. You tell me who’s doing the usurping here.
Of course, it’s also the case that not every decision made by a duly elected legislative body is a good one. In fact, the Michigan legislature seems to excel and making abominable decisions. Which brings me to the second bad news of the week. The state House of Representatives just passed HB 4205, which is unoffically called the “no stricter than federal” bill. The bill’s foolish idea—and believe me, I know this sounds absurd— is to prohibit state regulatory agencies from making any rules that are stricter than already existing federal regulations. This is transparently idiotic, since federal regulations, weak and ineffectual as they tend to be, do not account for local conditions. How could they? Yet Michigan state legislators want to make it harder, not easier, for state-specific regulations—regulations that might help protect the state’s thousands of miles of coastline, its freshwater resources—to be enacted. It’s as if no Republican member of the state House (no Democrats voted for the bill) has ever heard of, say, Flint. Or petcoke.
What’s worse is that the House already tried this— six years ago. But back then even Governor Snyder thought it was a bad idea and vetoed the bill. Yet here it is again. I have already written to my representative, Joe Graves, expressing my great disappointment in his vote for this terrible legislation. And I’ll be writing to my state senator and the Governor as well. I encourage you to do the same.
We’re back! We’ve got a spiffy new look, a new mission (details below), and starting right now in this very sentence I’m even dropping, for good, the rhetorical first person plural. Yep, things have changed during the eighteen or so months this blog has been dormant.
Among those changes, in case you haven’t heard, is that Line 6B is evidently no longer Line 6B. With no real explanation, Enbridge recently decided to start calling it Line 78. It’s not altogether clear why, though I suspect they saw this in part as an opportunity for some re-branding—you know, on account of the spotty reputation of Line 6B— maybe even a continuation of their project to obscure the history they love to say, sometimes with creepy tokens, they’ll never forget. But just because they’ve chosen a new name doesn’t mean we have to use it— no more than we have to comply with their misleading, ahistorical insistence that “oil sands” is the “accurate” term for the filthy stuff dug up from the ground in Alberta and flowing through the pipeline in my backyard as I type this. So you can rest assured that I plan on keeping the name “Line 6B Citizens’ Blog.”
But that doesn’t mean nothing around here is changing. After all, for most Line 6B landowners, the long, torturous construction saga known as the Line 6B “replacement” project ended almost two years ago— and with it ended some of the urgent necessity of this blog. It’s been a while since Enbridge finally packed up its monstrous tree-eating machines, its backhoes, its welding rigs, and its pack of scurrilous, lying land agents and headed north so it could commence destroying properties, suing municipalities, and buying off politicians in Minnesota and Wisconsin. All of which they are doing, of course, aided and abetted by the Department of Justice, which turned what should have been a sharp rebuke and deterrent to Enbridge’s standard operating procedures into a rather large gift. So as long as Enbridge continues to get its way, why change its behavior?
Not all the news of the past eighteen months has been bad, though. The movement to shut down Line 5, those two rickety old pipes traversing the Straits of Mackinac, has grown beyond what anyone ever could have expected. More and more citizens, members of the business community, clergy, and even some (unlikely) politicians have begun to take seriously the dangers that aging line poses to the world’s largest source of fresh water. Another positive development is the courageous action taken by the Bad River Band of of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa in Wisconsin. In order to protect the sensitive natural resources that sustain the tribe’s fishing and hunting lifeways, the Bad River tribal council voted not to renew Enbridge’s lease to operate Line 5 on tribal land. And there has been good news from Minnesota as well, where, thanks to a lawsuit filed by our friends at the Friends of the Headwaters, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that Enbridge must complete a full Environmental Impact Statement for its proposed pipeline expansions (one of which appears to be dead).
Developments like these hardly seemed possible when I started this blog in 2012. Grass roots movements against pipelines in the U.S., with one major exception, didn’t occupy anywhere near the space in public consciousness they inhabit today (which isn’t to say that nothing was brewing five years ago). Save for some talented reporters at a scrappy upstart online newspaper, Line 6B certainly wasn’t on many people’s radar, as my wife and I learned to our deep dismay when we tried to contact Michigan elected officials about the “replacement project.” Nor had many people heard of Line 5, Pegasus, the Alberta Clipper, Line 3, Dakota Access, Nexus, ET Rover, Northeast Energy Direct. LNG, or Trans Mountain— not to mention PHMSA and FERC.
The movements to resist each of these projects originated in local, even hyperlocal, concerns— call it NIMBYism if you want. But another change is that these movements are no longer so confined. They now form distinct nodes in a transnational network of efforts to exert local autonomy and authority against the onslaught of an energy infrastructure development beast running completely amok, virtually unconstrained by the state and federal agencies charged with protecting the public interest. Even more broadly, these movements have come to represent some of the most important and most visible sites of citizen action in response to the urgencies of climate change and the energy future.
A good deal of credit for this shift in public awareness about the relationship between local concerns like property rights and global concerns like climate change, forged by bringing fossil fuel transport aboveground (so to speak), is due to Bold Nebraska and the alliances they formed—between cowboys and Indians, ranchers and climate activists—to fight against Keystone XL. More recently, similar movements led by indigenous peoples like the Standing Rock Sioux water protectors in North Dakota have helped bring to light some further historical and ethical dimensions of this nexus, like the legacy of settler colonialism and important questions about climate justice, since indigenous and other poor populations will suffer most from the effects of climate change.
Admittedly, all of these matters weren’t foremost in my mind when I started this blog. The pain of witnessing the destruction of my property and a desire to see my neighbors and other property owners treated fairly motivated my efforts. The generosity and vast knowledge provided by the Pipeline Safety Trust aided those efforts immeasurably while also expanding my understanding of pipeline politics beyond my homefront. From there, my academic training led me to seek out not just resources for dealing with pipeline issues but also contexts and intellectual frameworks within which to understand and think through the broader social, political, and historical dimensions of what was happening in my backyard and the backyards of my neighbors. Those contexts and frameworks, inspired by the writings, conversations, friendships, and exchanges I’ve had with with scholars, activists, advocates, artists, ordinary citizens, and even members of the fossil fuel industry—will form the basis of the reinvented (and reinvigorated) Line 6B Citizens’ Blog.
In the academic world, scholars of literature (like me), history, anthropology, philosophy, political science and other fields who are bringing their disciplinary training to bear upon the cultural implications of our long love affair with (or addiction to?) hydrocarbons, climate change, ecology, environmental justice, energy policy, the nonhuman world, and more have created a broad, loosely defined field of study known as the Environmental Humanities. The kind of inquiry that animates the Environmental Humanities, almost by definition, takes up ethical questions, matters of public policy, and subjects of pressing real-world concern. For that reason, many EH scholars are eager for opportunities to engage with audiences and publics outside of the (sometimes too narrow) academic sphere—something I learned when I collaborated with my Oakland University colleagues to organize a climate change symposium at our campus. It’s my hope that the new Line 6B Citizens’ Blog can provide an ongoing forum for this kind of public engagement and, even better, for building a community comprised of groups of people that don’t always get the chance to communicate with one another.
All of this means I’ll mostly feature other voices on this blog from now on. I’ve asked some of the smartest and most interesting thinkers I know— many, but not all, of them Environmental Humanities scholars— to help keep this blog alive. And I hope to recruit others as well. Of course, I promise I won’t stop reporting on Enbridge. Nor will I cease to do whatever I can to help protect landowners and the environment from their latest shenanigans. But I’m also eager to let others have this platform for a while to explore issues that extend beyond (but also extend very much from) what has happened with Enbridge here in Michigan. I hope, loyal readers, that you’ll stick around. We all have much to learn from one another.
We’re going to kick things off with a brand new series centered upon a theme near and dear to all of us along Line 6B: “Backyards.” That series will launch very soon—and I am very excited about it. Please stay tuned.
As many of you know, postcards from Enbridge have been arriving in the mail this week announcing a “Community Meeting.” In fact, Enbridge is (has been) holding a number of these meetings around the region this spring (details below). Understandably, this has people wondering and wary as to what Enbridge might be up to now. We’ve received queries from a number of people and also heard rumors of various sorts. So we just wanted to take a minute to set the record straight about these meetings.
You may recall that last summer, Enbridge finally reached a settlement with the Department of Justice for the Marshall spill. At that time, we expressed our deep disappointment in that settlement, which is shockingly favorable to Enbridge’s interest. In our view, it amounts to a reward, in fact, rather than a punishment.
At any rate, among the many directives in the Consent Decree outlining the details of the settlement (which you can read here) is a requirement that Enbridge perform “Community Outreach.” Here is what the decree says:
In addition to the above exercises, Enbridge shall conduct or hire a contractor to conduct Community Outreach sessions regarding the hazards of the different oils in the Lakehead System and the location of Enbridge pipelines in the community and how such pipelines are marked. Specifically, within one year of the Effective Date, and for each year thereafter until the Decree is terminated, Enbridge shall hold at least 15 Community Outreach Sessions in 15 different communities where the Lakehead System is located. Enbridge shall also provide information at the Community Outreach sessions regarding: (i) how the community should respond in the event of a spill, (ii) how the community can obtain information in the event of a spill from Enbridge and government agencies, and (iii) how the community can report spills to Enbridge, EPA, and the National Response Center. (116.e., p. 115)
So these meetings are nothing more than informational sessions to comply with the DoJ order. They are apt to be rather boring– though you can be sure that we’ll be attending to find out. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see whether Enbridge has anything to say about “the hazards of the different oils in the Lakehead System” or whether they’ll just try to tell us once again how much the products they transport enhance our lives.
Here are the remaining meetings (a couple of others have already been held), with dates, times, and locations. Registration appears to be required.
Tue, May 9, 2017
Community Outreach Session: 6:00 pm
Heritage Elementary School
222 Western Ave,
Stockbridge, MI 49285
Wed, May 10, 2017
Community Outreach Session: 6:00 pm
Deer Lake Athletic Club
6167 White Lake Rd,
Village of Clarkston, MI 48346
Port Huron, MI
Thu, May 11, 2017
Community Outreach Session: 6:00 pm
701 McMorran Blvd.
Port Huron , MI 48060
One final word: we know the blog has been dormant for a while as we’ve been attending to other things. But we’re planning a comeback– or more precisely, a reinvention. Please stay tuned for the relaunch coming very soon!
As we reported last week, the Department of Justice and Enbridge have reached finally reached a settlement in the Marshall spill. For reasons we described in our post, we don’t think the settlement is at all satisfactory. And we’re not alone. In an excellent Smart Pig blog post, Rebecca Craven of the Pipeline Safety Trust also outlines some of the areas where the settlement appears to fall short. Our own view is that, in many ways, the settlement is quite advantageous to Enbridge.
However, there is one bit of good news in the settlement that we neglected to mention: it clearly prohibits Enbridge from ever re-using the original Line 6B. You might recall that this is something many of us in Michigan asked for repeatedly prior to construction of the new Line. But Enbridge always hedged. Now, that line will be decommissioned permanently, which is very good news indeed. Of course, even that injunction is less than ideal: it should have been part of the terms of approval of the new line and Enbridge should have been required to remove it, rather than leaving it in the ground.
Which brings us back to the consent decree. You see, as we mentioned in our last post, the proposed settlement contains a number of provisions relating to Enbridge’s Line 3 project in Minnesota, a project that might well induce in Michiganders a terrifying sense of déjà vu. Like Line 6B, Line 3 is old and deteriorating. The consent decree requires Enbridge to replace it and decommission the original Line 3. But this is in no way an onerous requirement for Enbridge and it certainly isn’t punishment. That’s because Enbridge already planned to “replace” the line. But as with Line 6B, they aren’t really “replacing” the line. Instead, they’re building a brand new one—an even bigger one—and they want to build it in a different location. Yes, you read that correctly: a larger diameter pipeline in a different location. To call that a replacement is an abuse of language. It’s also a very clever way of skirting the requirements of their presidential permit for that line—a replay of their Line 6B strategy.
But the Line 3 boondoggle is even worse than the Line 6B replacement. That’s because the consent decree does not require the permanent decommissioning of the original Line 3. Instead, it lays out a number of conditions that would allow Enbridge to continue to operate it. That’s deeply troubling. If that line is going to be decommissioned, we agree with our friends in Minnesota that it should be taken out of the ground, just as should have been done with Line 3 (in fact, you can support their efforts by signing this petition). But instead, the settlement leaves open the possibility of allowing Enbridge to operate both a new Line 3 in a new location and the old Line 3. As a result, Enbridge, cunningly, seems to have negotiated an agreement with the Department of Justice that essentially rewards them for the costliest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
But here’s the (potentially) good news: the settlement is not yet final. The public has 30 days to comment on it. We urge you to do so. In particular, we urge you to ask the DoJ to remove the Line 3 provisions altogether. After all, what do those things have to do with affairs in Michigan in the first place? You might also encourage DoJ to file criminal charges and to require Supplemental Environmental Projects that could benefit Michigan. Lastly, you might ask for some tougher requirements with regard to Line 5. Instead of giving them tacit permission to continue to operate those lines, Enbridge should have to generate a plan to shut down and remove those dangerous pipelines from beneath the Straits of Mackinac once and for all.
For more reasons you should oppose the Line 3 project and helpful links for commenting on the consent decree, visit this page from our friends at Honor the Earth.
We’re back from our period of dormancy to mark the sixth anniversary of the Marshall spill. (Yes, despite what Enbridge says, today is the anniversary!).
By now you have probably heard the news: last week the Department of Justice, at long last, has announced penalties against Enbridge for the devastating Marshall spill. Why it took six full years and why the penalties were a matter of negotiation, we will never understand. But setting that aside, we’ve got a few things to say about the substance of the so-called “settlement”:
First, you probably read that Enbridge has been “hit with a $177 million bill” or some such. Everybody seems to be seizing upon this $177 million figure, even those who have been most outspoken or dogged in documenting Enbridge’s misdeeds. But don’t believe it. Enbridge was not hit with a $177 million dollar bill. The DoJ levied a $61 million civil penalty— for violations of the Clean Water Act. They were also “hit” with another $1 million for another spill. And they are required to pay back another $5 million to the Oil Spill Liability Fund, which they drew from during the cleanup.
So why is everybody saying $177 million? Well, it’s because Enbridge and DoJ estimate that it’s going to cost Enbridge an additional $110 million to comply with a number of provisions in the settlement, many of them having to do with safety tests of their pipeline network and others having to do with repairs and other costs.
But it’s a real stretch to pretend that money is some sort of penalty. After all, most of what the DoJ is requiring of Enbridge— hydrotests to assess the conditions of their pipelines, for instance— is stuff you’d expect them to be doing anyway. It’s the normal cost of operating pipelines.
Even worse, probably the largest chunk of that $110 million has to do with the replacement of Line 3, an aging pipeline Enbridge operates which runs from Neche, North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin, which the consent decree requires. Trouble is, replacing that line is something Enbridge is already planning to do. So it’s a capital investment they are making anyway (or so they have hoped), regardless of what DoJ said.
Which brings us to our second point: as a provision in this settlement, the replacement of Line 3 is not a penalty. It’s a gift. In fact, it’s great news for Enbridge.
We told you a bit about Line 3 a long time ago. That proposed “replacement” project is an even greater boondoggle than the “replacement” of Line 6b was. That’s because Enbridge’s proposed route for the new Line 3 doesn’t even follow the same route as the original Line 3. It’s not a “replacement,” it’s new infrastructure. Enbridge wants to put that line in the same corridor as the proposed Sandpiper pipeline— a route that, as our friends at the Friends of the Headwaters know very well, is totally bonkers, as it threatens some of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the state.
Even worse, the route for the newly proposed Line 3 is identical to the route of the Sandpiper pipeline, which, frankly put, is just plain crazy. Our friends at the Friends of the Headwaters have explained why repeatedly— and convincingly.
So here’s the problem with the DoJ provision: it may well be that Line 3, an aging pipeline, needs to be replaced (just as Line 6b did). But that fact does not mean that Enbridge ought to get to do whatever it wants, however it wants. But that’s going to be exactly what happens now. Enbridge will use that provision as a cudgel to beat any sort of questions or opposition to that project into submission. Any questions anybody asks Enbridge about the Line 3 replacement (such as its route) are going to be met with “we’re legally obligated to do this according to the Department of Justice, so just shut up.” Essentially, that provision gives Enbridge’s Line 3 plans federal blessing.
The third problem with the settlement is the failure of the DoJ to file any kind of criminal charges. Here it’s worth remembering some basic facts (all readily available in the NTSB report from 2011): Enbridge knew about defects in Line 6b for five years, but chose to do nothing about them. For years, Enbridge fostered a “culture of deviance” from its own safety protocols, which directly contributed to the Marshall disaster. As if that’s not bad enough, Enbridge’s control room operators knew there was a problem with Line 6b SEVENTEEN HOURS before shutting the pipeline down.
Letting Enbridge off the criminal hook is a slap in the face to the families whose lives were ruined by Enbridge’s documented negligence. Here we’ll just quote our friend Susan Connolly:
“Six years have passed with questions unanswered and concerns remain,” Susan Connolly, a local Michigan mother whose children suffered rashes as a result of the Kalamazoo spill, said in a statement. “The fines related to the Clean Water Act should not be in the form of a ‘settlement’ discussed and agreed to between the agencies and the at fault party. The maximum penalty should be ordered, criminal penalties assessed, and a Michigan Pipeline Trust created.”
Fourth, the feds missed an opportunity to make some lasting good out of this disaster. It is common in cases like this one, where businesses reach settlements with the feds for failures to comply with environmental laws, to create what are called Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEP), which are designed to help protect the environment. In a state as reliant on its marvelous natural resources, it is frankly shocking that the settlement included no SEPs of any kind. This is a travesty.
Finally, the settlement includes a whole bunch of provisions related to Line 5. Mostly, these have to do with conducting tests to assess the condition of the lines and repairing any defects or problems with the pipelines’ supports or coverage. On the face of it, these seem like good measures (although, again, these are things Enbridge ought to be doing already). But as with Line 3, these provisions simply give Enbridge federal cover. In this case, cover to continue operating those lines indefinitely, when nearly everybody— even those whose judgement is generally suspect— now recognizes that those lines ought to be shut down and decommissioned permanently. But now Enbridge gets to pretend like the federal government has given its approval for them to continue to operate Line 5. And, unfortunately, they’re right about that. They’ll now tell everybody that these federal mandates preempt any and all state and local authority.
As we (and plenty of others) have said repeatedly, the Marshall spill was not just an accident. It was not an honest mistake. It was the result of systemic problems and preventable actions. Those problems and actions destroyed properties, uprooted families, affected individuals’ health in ways we still don’t even understand. The DoJ’s consent decree does not even come close to redressing those actions; it certainly won’t do anything to deter Enbridge from continuing to operate as it always has. Quite the contrary: given the modesty of the penalty and the friendly Line 3 and Line 5 provisions, the consent decree, six years in the making, rewards Enbridge’s behavior.
After six long years of negotiations—yes, we said negotiations!–the Department of Justice will announce fines against Enbridge for the Marshall spill. The news is almost certain to be infuriated. We’ll have more to say after the announcement and the Enbridge p.r. stunt that follows.
Here’s the Freep story announcing the pending announcement.
Many long time readers of this blog are aware that we keep a side gig teaching American literature at Oakland University. Over the past several months, we’ve been collaborating with a couple of our magnificent colleagues to organize an exciting event to which we’d like to invite you: a one day symposium on climate change we’re calling “Climate Literacies: Reading the Anthropocene.”
The symposium will bring together scholars from the humanities and sciences, conservationists, leaders of Michigan environmental organizations, activists, and advocates for environmental justice to talk about politics, scholarship, the arts, the ecology of the Great Lakes, and the implications of climate change for Michigan and beyond. And don’t worry, Enbridge is sure to get a mention!
The event will take place October 15, starting, from 9 am-7 pm in the Oakland Room of the Oakland Center on the campus of Oakland University.
The symposium will begin with an address by the University of Michigan’s Henry Pollack, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and author of A World Without Ice. It will conclude with a keynote address titled “Love and Death in the Anthropocene” by the brilliant and innovative literary scholar Dana Luciano of Georgetown University.
In between, we’ll have lots of conversation and fascinating presentations featuring, among others, some friends we’ve made here at the blog as well as others whose work we’ve long admired. In addition to OU faculty, including our co-organizers, Professors Andrea Knutson and Hunter Vaughan, symposium participants are:
- Nadia Bozak, novelist and Assistant Professor of English at Carleton University; her most recent novel is El Niño.
- Tom Baird, President, Anglers of the Au Sable
- Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, For Love of Water
- Anne Vaara, Executive Director, Clinton River Watershed Council
- William Copeland, Climate Justice Director, East Michigan Environmental Council
- Jake McGraw, Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands
- Mackenzie Maxwell, Environmental Educator, Ecology, Center Ann Arbor
- Stephanie Foote, Professor of English and Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Illinois and Co-Editor of Resilience: A Journal of Environmental Humanities
- Janet Fiskio, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies & Comparative American Studies, Oberlin College
- Denise Keele, Associate Professor of Political Science and Environmental and Sustainability Studies, Western Michigan University
- Margaret A. Crouch, Professor, Department of Philosophy and Program for Interdisciplinary Environmental Science and Society, Eastern Michigan University
- Ted Toadvine, Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies, University of Oregon and editor-in-chief of Environmental Philosophy
The event is free and open to the public. Please join us– and bring your friends!
In addition to a vast network of oil and gas pipelines in the Great Lakes region, Enbridge owns and operates several state legislatures. Wisconsin is its latest acquisition.
We hope everyone is enjoying the summer. We certainly are, which is why we’ve been (more than) a little neglectful of the blog of late. We hope you’ll forgive us!
Readers of this blog are probably aware of a certain anniversary that’s coming up in a couple of weeks. We’ll be remembering also. If you’re in the area, you should try to make the event.
And while you’re pondering that dark part of Michigan’s history, you might take a moment to think about how we can prevent such a thing from happening ever again. That’s a heavy task, but we can tell you one thing that won’t help: less transparency from pipeline companies.
We’re reminded of this because of a baffling recent post from our friends up at the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations (CAEPLA). Thanks to the dedication and hard work of their founder Dave Core, they’ve been helping landowners along pipelines and protecting property rights in Canada for a long time and have done tons of good. We appreciate their efforts tremendously and respect the model they have developed, which is quite interesting.
But earlier this month, they waded into matters down here in Michigan and quickly got themselves in way over their heads. The result is a whole lot of misinformation, shoddy argumentation, and factual inaccuracies. We’re disappointed and sorry to see it. But since they’re taking issue with us specifically– well, they try to take issue with us, but they clearly don’t understand the issue or our position– we think it’s only appropriate to respond.
Honestly, there’s so much wrong with CAEPLA’s take on the proposed changes to Michigan’s FOIA laws— what we’ve been calling the Enbridge Secrecy Bill– that we hardly know where to begin. CAEPLA’s argument is convoluted and, frankly, a little bizarre. And if we didn’t know better, we’d think it was cooked up by pipeline companies themselves. In a nutshell, CAEPLA’s position is this: demanding disclosure of pipeline companies’ proprietary information is ultimately a threat to the protection of individual landowner’s personal or private information.
Now, this is both completely nonsensical and completely irrelevant to the debate at hand (over HB 4540). We explain why below. But first we want to say that virtually every sentence of the post contains something objectionable– if not just plain wrong. For that reason, we’re tempted to dissect it sentence by sentence. But that would probably make for tedious reading and this is going to be long enough as it is. So we’ll just point out three big problems:
1. CAEPLA is needlessly snarky
We’re not sure why, but CAEPLA adopts an unnecessarily snide tone, complete with industry-like caricatures and straw-man arguments. Here’s how they begin:
House Bill 4540 is being depicted as a threat to the public because it would make it more difficult for those who “are concerned about” (read: oppose) pipelines to access companies’ “secret” information.
Now, since CAEPLA takes as its example of the bill’s critics this post of ours, one might reasonably think that the quoted phrase “are concerned about” is something we wrote. But it’s not. We don’t know who are what they’re quoting. The quote seems made up so that CAEPLA can engage in that little bit of parenthetical snark, taking a shot at people who oppose pipelines. What that has to do with Michigan’s HB 4540 we have no idea. Nor do we know what pipeline CAEPLA might be referring to; evidently they just want to conjure up some phantom image of a person who opposes all pipelines. Frankly, we’re surprised by this. It’s the same tired line we’ve heard from the industry time and again. It’s disingenuous and lazy. We’ve responded to it on numerous occasions. The fact is that sometimes, for good reasons, we oppose pipelines; sometimes we don’t.
Here’s a second example of how CAEPLA paints a distorted picture of opponents of HB 4540:
Opponents of the exemption for pipeline companies argue that FOI laws are the only way to protect stakeholders – including landowners – from the growing risks associated with aging pipelines, and from the allegedly more dangerous contents coursing through them.
Again, this is nonsense. We don’t know anybody who has ever said FOIA “laws are the only way to protect stakeholders” from pipeline risks. That would be a foolish thing to argue– which is why nobody is arguing it. Opponents of HB 4540, including ourselves, have advocated many ways to protect against the risk of more pipeline incidents. Transparency is just one piece of a very complicated puzzle.
2. CAEPLA thinks apples are oranges
As we said above, the heart of CAEPLA’s argument is that HB 4540 is essentially a privacy issue. For instance, they say:
The word secret is really just another more ominous way of saying private. As in private property. The private property of pipeline company shareholders, which of course includes proprietary information.
The word secret is not another way of saying private; it’s a way of saying undisclosed. We have no idea why CAEPLA would try to smuggle the word “private” into this discussion. Presumably, it’s meant to push all sorts of buttons, since we all know that privacy is sacrosanct. You don’t want your privacy invaded, do you? That’s actually the line that CAEPLA takes. We’re not kidding. They say so very explicitly:
Threat to Pipeline Privacy is a Threat to Your Privacy
Now that’s just plain weird. In fact, there is no way whatsoever in which this statement is true. It violates about four different logical fallacies, maybe more. Aside from its implied slippery slope (ask the pipelines to reveal their emergency response program and pretty soon you’ll be forced to reveal what goes on in your bedroom!), it conflates things that are actually quite distinct. First, it conflates the ostensible “privacy” of pipeline companies with your personal privacy. But that’s just plain false. Corporations do not have rights to personal privacy like you do. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court just recently made that very clear. Secondly, CAEPLA conflates property rights with privacy rights. But those things, too, are very different. We don’t want to bore you, but we hope you’ll trust us when we tell you that, historically, the whole idea of a right to privacy depended upon distinguishing it from the right to property (in fact, that little bit of history is sort of a thing for us). Thirdly, it conflates pipeline companies’ proprietary information with the public records they are required to submit to state and federal governments. Those things, too, are distinct. It’s the latter that are covered by FOIA laws. The former is irrelevant.
So to sum up: property is not privacy. A corporation’s proprietary information has nothing whatsoever to do with your right to privacy. Nothing. In the same way, Michigan’s FOIA laws (especially as rewritten by HB 4540) have nothing whatsoever to do with your “personal and business documents.” There is simply no way to get from the one to the other. They’re apples and oranges. CAEPLA’s attempt to force the one on the other is at best confused and at worst a cheap ploy designed to scare you. One might even call it–to borrow a term CAEPLA applies to us– “alarmist.” In fact, if you want an example of alarmism, you really couldn’t do better than this:
But the power of government to pry open a privately owned pipeline company’s proprietary information is the same power to pry open any business’s private affairs and property, including yours.
That sounds bad, frightening even. The problem is that the government here is not prying open any company’s proprietary information. Nor is it prying open any individual’s “private affairs and property.” CAEPLA is just making this up.**
3. Which brings us to our final point: CAEPLA doesn’t understand anything at all about HB 4540 or, it appears, FOIA laws generally.
What we’re talking about here– what Michigan’s HB 4540 is about, what FOIA laws are always about– is access to public records, not to proprietary information. Opponents of HB 4540 aren’t seeking to “pry open” anything. They’re seeking to prevent pipeline companies from concealing even more information (that is, public information, such as documents submitted to government agencies) than they already do. This is CAEPLA’s biggest mistake. They appear not to understand the first thing about what HB 4540 says or why people like us think it is a very bad bill. Instead, they mischaracterize the whole debate over the bill as some attempt on the part of “opponents” to gain access to so-called “private” things they don’t already have access to, to try and “snoop” on the pipeline companies. That’s just plain silly. The debate over HB 4540 has nothing to do with “expropriat[ing] a private enterprise’s informational property.” CAEPLA is making that up, too.
Let us be extra clear on this point: nobody– NOBODY– is suggesting that pipeline companies don’t have the right (the property right) to keep certain kinds of information from the public, whether for proprietary or for security reasons. In fact, as we make very clear in the post that CAEPLA links to (which they apparently either didn’t read or didn’t comprehend), both federal and state laws already provide exemptions for that sort of information. We don’t have a problem with that.
The reason that HB 4540 is objectionable is because it goes far beyond those existing rules and laws. It would potentially allow pipeline companies to reveal even less than they reveal now. In fact, the bill’s language is so vague that it could allow pipeline companies to exempt almost anything from disclosure. And we’re not talking here about trade secrets or the emails that Enbridge executives send to their spouses, we’re talking (it bears repeating) about public records, things like emergency response procedures, the results of internal corrosion inspections, and integrity management systems– the kinds of things that would allow the public to participate in safety accountability.
To once again put this more simply: CAEPLA would have you believe that opponents of HB 4540 have embarked upon some kind of invasive endeavor to gain access to (so-called “private’) information they can’t currently access. We’re not sure if CAEPLA seriously believes that or if they are deliberately distorting the situation. Nor are we sure what CAEPLA has to gain by distorting the debate. But whatever the case, the truth is that what we really oppose is a bill that would prevent the public from gaining access to public information.
Honestly, we have no idea why CAEPLA has suddenly decided to carry water for the industry (and Enbridge in particular). Nor do we know why they suddenly decided to weigh in on matters about which they clearly don’t have even the most basic understanding. We hope they continue their good work, advocating on behalf of landowners. We applaud those efforts; we always have. But we also suggest that they might want to do a little more homework or take a little more care before weighing in on matters beyond their immediate purview.
** Even if CAEPLA’s fictional scenario were real (which it is not), here is a clear example of just how far-fetched and ill-informed it is. These are two of the existing exemptions from disclosure in Michigan’s FOIA law specifically designed to protect privacy:
“(a) Information of a personal nature if public disclosure of the information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy.”
“(b) (iii) [Law enforcement records that would] Constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
Imagine a law that says that Enbridge or ET Rover is not required to disclose to you basic facts or details about the pipeline that runs through your backyard.
Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? And yet, that is exactly the law that the Michigan legislature is trying to pass. According to House Bill 4540, basic information “about the production, generation, transportation, transmission, or distribution of fuel or energy” would be exempt from Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. That means, potentially, that the pipeline company that has access to your property — a company like Enbridge or Vector or Rover– would not have to tell you what materials are getting pumped through the pipeline on your property, where that product is going, or what plans the company has in the event that the pipeline ruptures on your property.
In fact, the language of the bill is so laughably broad that it would exempt pipeline companies from even having to disclose the specific locations of their pipelines– despite the fact that those same pipeline companies are required by federal law to mark the locations of their pipeline right of ways. The pipeline company would also not have to disclose information about its emergency response plans– something of vital importance to all of us. Think about this for a second: according to the proposed law, you would not have the right to know the same details about the operation of the pipeline in your yard that the government knows.
We’re not making this up.
As we noted on Thursday, Keith Matheny has a story on the proposed bill in the Detroit Free Press from earlier in the week. Also this week, the great Jack Lessenberry weighed in on the issue, reminding us why our legislators “don’t deserve our trust”:
They demonstrate daily that they don’t work for us, or care about what we think. Here’s the latest example: Kurt Heise, a Republican state representative from Plymouth, introduced a bill this week to prevent all of us from getting information about things like oil and gas pipelines in this state.
Currently, a lot of people are worried about a pipeline Enbridge has under the straits of Mackinac. If it broke, that would utterly devastate the Great Lakes.
Enbridge, as we know too well, had a pipeline break five years ago, sending more than a million gallons of heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. Its pipeline under Mackinac would be old enough to collect Social Security, if it were a person. If that were to break it could be the worst environmental disaster in our history.
But Kurt Heise doesn’t want us to be able to find out much about it. We wouldn’t be able to find out much about high-energy power lines either, or other critical and potentially dangerous energy sources. He would exempt their owners from the state Freedom of Information Act.
To cover their backsides, the sponsors of the bill, including Kurt Heise, want to pretend that this is a national security issue. Here’s what Heise told the Free Press:
“We do not want people who may have ill intent to be able to locate the exact location of underground utilities, the pumps and surface machinery that may exist with those underground utilities, so they are protected from harm,” Heise said.
But national security risks are nothing new. Nor are pipelines in this state, which have been operating in this state for decades. So why this concern now, all of a sudden? The timing is peculiar to say the least. One plausible explanation for this timing– far more plausible than Heise’s “national security” canard– is that Enbridge’s Line 5 has been the topic of a great deal of scrutiny and concern by the public recently. It’s clear that Enbridge would rather not disclose certain information about that line and its other operations in the state (we can only speculate as to why). So they somehow managed to convince shills like Heise to type up a law for them– a law that would also apply to their industry peers, like Rover.
Whatever the reason for the bill’s appearance now, what is clear is that it won’t ensure public safety. In fact, it will do just the opposite. We know from the Marshall spill– and dozens of other similar spill all across the country— that the oil and gas industry’s failures to comply with safety regulations (and their own safety protocols) pose a far more immediate threat to property, communities, and the environment than terrorists. For that reason, what we need now is more transparency, more scrutiny– not less. Because of the failures of the industry and state and federal regulators, it is more critical than ever to provide citizens with greater information to protect themselves. Yet this bill contains language so broad and so sweeping that a pipeline company could say that almost anything related to the operation of their pipelines “could be useful to a person planning an attack on critical energy infrastructure.”
Put simply, the bill places all of us at even greater risk. What could our legislators possibly be thinking?
Two final points before we ask you to take action:
The sponsors of this legislation– by which we mean both elected officials and oil and gas companies like Enbridge– would have you believe that this bill simply mirrors federal law. Don’t believe them; it’s not true. The bill does takes language (verbatim) from federal regulations put in place by one agency (NOT the legislature) to define a process for the request or protection of potentially sensitive information. The Michigan bill goes far beyond that; it gives oil and gas companies legal protection for keeping secrets from you.
Secondly, the Michigan FOIA already has a provision that allows certain exemptions for safety and security (see section Y). HB 4540 just provides special (or extra) accommodations for oil and gas companies, like Enbridge and Rover.
The bottom line is this: it’s a very bad bill. Bad for all of us. It’s quite clearly a bill conceived, promoted, and written not by Kurt Heise or his colleagues, but by Enbridge’s cadre of lawyers and lobbyists. Nor is it a bill that will protect you or your fellow Michigan citizens or our magnificent natural resources. If anything, it will just put us all at more risk.
For that reason, we’re asking you to take action. Please take a minute to write to your state representatives. A hearing by the Oversight and Ethics Committee is scheduled for Thursday. Below are links to contact information for the members of that committee. Joe Graves has been particularly responsive to constituent concerns on such matters. But please contact your representative also. Don’t allow Enbridge to write yet another of our state’s laws.
This matter is especially urgent if you are along the Enbridge, Vector, or Rover pipelines. Don’t you think you have the right to know as much as possible about the operation and condition of the pipeline that runs through your yard?
Michigan Oversight and Ethics Committee
Ed McBroom (R) Committee Chair, 108th District
Martin Howrylak (R) Majority Vice-Chair, 41st District
Joseph Graves (R) 51st District
Lana Theis (R) 42nd District
Rose Mary Robinson (D) Minority Vice-Chair, 4th District
Kristy Pagan (D) 21st District
What is it with Michigan elected officials? At a moment in time when almost everybody in the U.S. and Canada recognizes the need for heightened scrutiny of pipeline operators– especially given the failures of our federal regulators— Michigan Representative Kurt Heise of Plymouth has introduced legislation designed to allow pipeline operators to escape even more scrutiny. Keith Matheny of the Free Press has the story. It’s as if Kurt Heise has never even heard of the Marshall spill. Either that or he’s just a gutless shill for the oil and gas companies. Reminds us of some others.
If Heise is in your district, please contact him and express your extreme displeasure at his willingness to do the bidding of the company responsible for the most expensive inland oil spill in U.S. history– not to mention his shameful attempt to play us all for chumps and pass it off as as a matter of “national security” (his contact info is below). That line is total b.s. and everybody knows it. Also, you might send him a copy of the NTSB report on the Marshall spill as well. He’s clearly never seen it.
TOLL FREE: 855-737-5878
We knew it would come to this. MLive is reporting today that Rover is suing landowners in Washtenaw over their right to survey. This is a matter we discussed in some detail months ago.
Rover’s actions here are bad enough: they continue to fail to cultivate good relations with landowners in Michigan. Just as bad, however, is Michigan attorney John DeVries, who seems to want to pretend that there is something unusual here, that landowners who are refusing to grant permission are extremists and outliers:
DeVries said the cases are a rarity in his career of about 40 years working on about 20 pipeline projects.
“This is the first time, on one pipeline project of many that I’ve worked on, where surveyor permission had been denied,” DeVries said.
Frankly, we’re not buying it. Either that or none of those “20 pipeline projects” are projects from the 21st century.
Fresh off a visit to Washington, D.C. and a visit to PHMSA, we’ve got an op-ed this week over at Vice News in which we wonder why pipelines just keep failing:
It has been five years since the Marshall disaster in Michigan — and also five years since the terrible San Bruno, California pipeline explosion that killed eight people — but federal regulators have done almost nothing to improve the safety of the nation’s existing pipelines. Partly in response to these incidents and others like them, in 2011 Congress passed the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act. Yet in the intervening time, the agency charged with implementing that bill’s provisions, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA), has failed to finalize and institute any new major regulations.
You can read the full piece here.
And while you’re there, be sure to take the time to watch the excellent video report, “Pipeline Nation,” featuring our friends Carl Weimer and Alexis Bonogofsky telling the truth.
If you’ve been following the news this week, you’ve surely heard that ET Rover has altered its plans significantly. They’ve entered into an agreement with Vector Pipelines (a joint operation owned by Enbridge and DTE) to use existing infrastructure through much of Michigan, eliminating the need to build new pipe through a number of counties. The new plan still calls for roughly 100 miles of new pipeline construction through Lenawee, Washtenaw, and Livingston counties, where that new pipe will meet up with the existing Vector line.
Yesterday, in the face of this (seemingly) good news, we expressed our concern about previously announced plans by Vector to expand capacity by building “loop” line adjacent to the existing one. But two reporters, the excellent Keith Matheny at the Free Press and the equally excellent Beth LeBlanc at the Times Herald in St. Clair County reported late yesterday that Vector has decided to scrap its expansion plans. Here is Enbridge’s Lorraine Little:
“At this time, Vector Pipeline will not need to expand its mainline system to meet these firm transportation obligations.”
And here is DTE’s Erica Donelson:
“Currently, Vector can support the capacity requirements for Rover.”
So it appears our question from yesterday has been answered. That said, we’d just like to make a few observations in the face of this latest news:
First, we understand the jubilation of local officials and landowners upon learning of this news. There is no question that this new plan is much better for landowners than the old one. A lot of people will be spared a lot of disruption and risk. And unquestionably, they use of existing infrastructure is preferable to new construction. However, it’s worth remembering that an awful lot of landowners and communities will still be affected. We hope that all of those deeply concerned residents of Oakland, Genessee, Lapeer, St. Clair, and Macomb counties will continue to show concern for their fellow citizens in Lenawee, Washtenaw, and Livingston.
Secondly, we should also bear in mind that many of the arguments against ET Rover still stand. If you believed before that Rover was not a public necessity before, that the project will of little benefit (but significant risk) to Michiganders, and that corporations ought not to be able to take private property for their own profit, you should still believe it now. The fact that a handful of counties have been spared does not invalidate those arguments.
Lastly, we’re still a little nervous about the prospects of Vector expansions. In fact, every time a pipeline company spokesperson starts a sentence with “At this time,” our heart skips a beat (and we’re pretty sure an angel loses its wings). It might well simply be a matter of time before those plans resurface. Landowners along the Vector line are now, as a friend of ours put it, living with a second shoe dangling over their heads, waiting to drop. We hope people are dusting off and reviewing their easement agreements.
So for those reasons, we’ve decided not to celebrate this news. We’re pleased in some ways and we’re extraordinarily proud of the remarkable efforts of those citizens and local officials who put real pressure on Rover and FERC, pressure that quite clearly caused this positive change in plans. But there’s more work to be done. Perhaps those in the spared counties will consider working with and helping those counties still in Rover’s crosshairs.
Don’t uncork the champagne just yet.
By now, you’ve probably heard the news that ET Rover’s plans have dramatically changed. The Free Press, the Clarkston News, and MLive have more on the story. Rover has struck a deal with Vector Pipelines which will eliminate the need to build about 110 miles of pipe in some of the northern counties along the original route. But they still want to build about 100 miles through Michigan’s Lenawee, Washtenaw, and Livingston counties. That’s still a very serious concern.
And the news might be even worse. Another news outlet that follows the natural gas industry reports this morning that Vector is preparing for this expanded capacity. Here’s the sentence that has us worried:
With enough binding support, Vector could add a 42-inch diameter loop and additional compression, pending contract renewals and depending upon interest of new shippers.
A “loop” is a pipeline that runs parallel to an existing pipeline. So in this instance, what that means– possibly? potentially?– is that Vector is considering installing a second line next to the one already in place. Admittedly, that’s not very clear at this point and if that is the plan they would most likely have to go to FERC for a certificate. Nevertheless, this would mean construction and disruption on the properties of lots and lots of Michigan landowners, many of whom also have Line 6B on their land, construction and disruption of precisely the sort that those of us along Line 6B endured. So instead of ET Rover beating up on a bunch of new Michigan landowners, this could mean Enbridge once again beating up on many of the same landowners they’ve already beat up on, along with some others.
To be clear: at this point, none of this is certain yet; the details are hazy at best. We just don’t have enough information right now. However, it does appear that yesterday’s news might not be quite as good as it at first seemed. If and when we learn more, we will let you know. In the meantime, property owners along the Vector route might want to check their original easement agreements to see if they allow for additional pipelines or just one. Please let us know what you find out.
Update 4:15 pm: Eric Dresden at MLive has confirmed with a Rover spokesperson that the pipeline is still planned to run through Lenawee and Washtenaw counties. See the comments section of the MLive article linked below.
Update: In an earlier version of this post, we said that Rover would not need to build any new pipeline in Michigan. But that’s not entirely clear. The announcement states that they are eliminating the segments through Shiawasee, Genessee, Lapeer, Oakland, St. Clair, and Macomb counties. What that means for Lenawee, Washtenaw, and Livingston counties remains uncertain. We apologize for the confusion. MLive has more on the story.
Thanks to one of our friends, we’ve gotten to the bottom of today’s ET Rover news. We’re still thinking through and digesting the full implications of the matter, but preliminarily we can say that it is very, very good news: it means that Rover will not need to build 110 miles of their proposed new pipeline infrastructure here. For many landowners, that is cause for celebration!
According to their press release, Rover has struck a deal with Vector Pipeline to use its existing infrastructure to transport oil through Michigan (many readers of this blog have the Vector line on their properties). So Rover and Enbridge have reunited: Vector, you may recall, is owned (in part) by Enbridge.
We believe Rover never would have sought this agreement were it not for the loud voices of Michigan citizens and the excellent leadership and action of so many local government officials. Thanks and congratulations to all!
Here is the press release:
This (possibly excellent news) just in: today, Representative Joe Graves posted the following to his Facebook page:
I was notified this morning that ET Rover is no longer looking to run a pipeline through Genesee or Oakland County. I will post the official press release when it comes out.
Please share this post with anyone that may be interested. I have been working on this issue for several months and I know that many in our community had great concerns about this pipeline.
It’s not clear yet precisely what that means. We’re looking into it. We’ll post more information as we obtain it.
Happy 2015, everyone! We’re sorry we’ve been away for a while. Since before the holidays, we’ve been attending to some life-matters and over the past few weeks, we’ve been getting back into the swing of a particularly busy new semester.
We do have a bit of news to share, however. Interestingly, the always-excellent Dave Hasemyer at Inside Climate News had a new story out last week featuring our friend Dave Gallagher. The story’s focus is on the incompleteness of restoration on the Line 6B replacement, a good companion piece to Rebecca Williams’ excellent Michigan Radio report a couple months back. Unfortunately, Hasemyer’s story doesn’t really take note of the many and varied other lingering issues on the Line 6B project: it’s not just a matter of restoring people’s land: all sorts of other promises that are not dependent upon the growing season– payments for damages, payments for crop loss, those makeup payments, among other things– have yet to be fulfilled also.
The timing of the ICN story is especially interesting because on Wednesday, we spent about an hour and a half meeting with Steve Wuori, Enbridge’s Strategic Advisor to the CEO; Leo Golden, Vice President of Major Projects; and Jason Manshum. The purpose of the meeting was to address matters like the above– as well as Enbridge’s shabby treatment of landowners generally– in the hopes of getting someone, finally, to take some swift and unequivocal corrective action. As so many readers of this blog already know, Enbridge has shown not even the slightest bit of urgency in attending to these things. Instead, they’re still haggling, hassling, foot-dragging, nickle-and-diming, or just plain ignoring landowners and their remaining concerns. For years, Enbridge has been willing to pay $2000 in attorney’s fees to fight against paying a landowner $1000. It’s time this stops.
We said all of this and more to Wuori, Golden, and Manshum. We did our best to explain– calmly, but in detail– that the mistreatment of landowners on the Line 6B project has been unconscionable, widespread, systemic, and continues still after all of this time– more than 3 years for some of us! We did our best to impress upon them that it is well past time for somebody, anybody, to step up and take charge, since the hapless (or just plain uncaring) people who have failed to get the job done to this point cannot be counted on. As one small example of the current state of things, we described an issue with some landowners who are trying to get compensation they were promised for a fence that was promised but never built. But their land agent is haggling with them over a paltry sum, stalling, and evading. What we said to Wuori is this: “Why not just write the damn check and be done with it? Why continue to torture these people, to frustrate them, to make enemies of them? Just write the damn check.” If Enbridge really wants to begin to try and repair the relationships they’ve damaged, they need to just write the damn checks.
That statement goes for just about everything. People have written agreements stipulating payments for crop loss: just write the damn checks. People have legal agreements for replacement trees: just get them the damn trees. People have unfixed damages to their homes and properties: just fix or pay for the damn damages. Many of these things can be resolved now, immediately, so that everybody can just move on.
The (possibly?) good news is that Wuori, Golden, and Manshum listened very attentively, took notes, and asked questions. At no point did they engage in excuse-making, “explaining,” or justifying of any kind. Frankly, this was a completely new experience for us in our dealings with Enbridge– and a refreshing one. Of course, based on past experience, we have every reason to be skeptical about the assurances we were given. But if we’re being honest– and that’s always been our policy here at this blog– it was probably the best interaction with Enbridge representatives we’ve ever had. For that reason we have some reason for (cautious) hope. For the first time we felt as if we were talking to people who were willing to concede (and they did) that they have failed to live up to their rhetoric and their corporate values and willing to take steps to make things right. We are very grateful they took the time to hear us out.
Most importantly, Wuori and Golden said they were going to get on this; we even received a follow-up email re-stating that pledge. For our part, we vowed to hold them to it– and offered to help in whatever way we can. So if you’re a Line 6B landowner with some outstanding issues or unfulfilled promises, let us know and we’ll be happy to pass them along.
Pipeline safety advocates enjoying beignets and coffee in New Orleans during the Pipeline Safety Trust conference.
Whew! Sorry for our little hiatus these past few weeks. We’ve had more than a few matters (mainly professional ones) that have required our attention. And then last week was the 2014 Pipeline Safety Trust conference— which was a great experience, as always. Rest assured that we have not abandoned you.
The trouble now, however, is that we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Fortunately, for some of it we’re going to get a little help from our friends. Among the things we’ll be bringing you over the next week or so:
- The latest on ET Rover— now just the “Rover Pipeline,” according to Energy Transfer– along with information and commentary about the first of the FERC scoping meetings.
- A run-down of some of our experiences at the PS Trust conference– as always, we learned a great deal– including our account of the genuine face time and conversation we had with you-won’t-believe-who; seriously, we have photographic evidence and everything!
- The latest entry in our ongoing “Landowner Stories” series, one that expands the series well beyond Line 6B. It turns out, landowners in Michigan aren’t the only ones Enbridge treats poorly. We’re taking the series south.
- Lastly, we’re going to embark upon our first-ever crowdsourcing project. We’ll need your help on this one! It’s a little something we cooked up with our awesome friend Lynda Farrell, Executive Director of the Pipeline Safety Coalition in Pennsylvania. Stay tuned for that one!
A couple of weeks ago, you may recall that Enbridge announced, rather triumphantly, that they’re done with Phase Two (the final phase) of the Line 6B replacement. At the time, we pointed out that while they may be finished with the only part of the project that really matters to them– getting oil flowing through the pipe– the project is far from finished as far as landowners are concerned. In fact, a great many landowners on Phase One are STILL waiting for restoration to be completed. And they’ve been waiting a very long time.
The fact is, if Enbridge cared even half as much about the lives and properties of landowners as they do about their profits, they would have treated landowner concerns from the start with the same sense of urgency with which they treated their pipeline installation. But restoration and “making landowners whole” has always been, at best, an afterthought.
This morning, we’re pleased to say that someone is finally paying attention to this sad fact. The always-excellent Rebecca Williams at Michigan Radio’s Environment Report has the story.
Corporate executives say the darnedest things! This week, Enbridge CEO Al Monaco got to have a little sit-down to talk with the Duluth News Tribune–reminding us of the time Enbridge President Steve Wuori got to have a sit down with the Ed. Board at the Lansing State Journal— and causing us to wonder anew why these executives get a special audience with these papers. Why doesn’t the Duluth News Tribune invite, say, Richard Smith from the Friends of the Headwaters in for some of that friendly shoulder-rubbing? In the interview, Monaco says some pretty hilarious things (the paper calls them “insights”), none more hilarious than his comments about environmentalists:
Misperception we’re “fighting environmentalists”
“I think maybe there’s a perception that we’re fighting environmentalists. My approach to this has always been, ‘Let us work with you. Let us figure out how we can improve the project.’ So if there are some ideas — whether (from) a community member, whether it’s a government agency, or whether it’s an environmentalist — we’d like to hear those ideas, and if it makes the project better we’ll look at it. I’m trying to make a point here that it’s not necessarily them and us. It’s what’s best for the project (and) what’s best for the communities so we protect the environment. That’s what our goal is.
“We do sit down with environmental groups, and our approach is to try and engage them, to try and understand their point of view, and hopefully they can try and understand our point of view. … Our first focus is to do what’s best for the environment and to make sure were operating safely.”
Obviously, we have no way of knowing whether Monaco actually believes this, is making some sort of joke, or just thinks it’s good p.r. to say such absurd things, knowing that the newspaper Ed. Board will just dutifully type it up and print it in their paper. What we do know, however, is that Monaco’s comments are funny enough to earn him a regular gig on one of the late night talk shows, or maybe his own HBO special.
Unfortunately, reality is slightly less amusing. Let’s just recall a quick example of how Enbridge really deals with each of these groups: environmentalists, “community member[s],” and “government agencies”:
Here is Monaco’s predecessor Patrick Daniel explaining how environmentalists are “revolutionaries” out to upend society as we know it.
Here is Enbride spokesperson Graham White making up a demonstrably false and disparaging story about a concerned community member (and a follow-up).
And here is Enbridge Vice President Richard Adams looking a major government agency– the EPA– straight in the eye and telling them something other than the truth.
It seems to us that the only groups Enbridge really cares to “sit down” with to share their point of view are friendly, credulous newspaper editorial pages willing to grant them “exclusive” interviews.
What follows is the first of a couple of comments we’ll be submitting to FERC expressing our concerns about and opposition to the ET Rover pipeline. In addition to all of the other serious and compelling issues raised by Michiganders, we think it’s important that FERC recognize the failures of its own processes.
October 28, 2014
Ms. Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20426
Re: Docket PF14-14-000
Dear Ms. Bose
I am writing with regard to the Rover Pipeline project (Docket #PF14-14), which is currently at the pre-filing stage. While I share many of the concerns expressed by my fellow southeast Michigan citizens (a very large number of whom have submitted their own comments to this docket) about the lack of necessity of this project, its limited benefits to our state, the disruptions it will cause to private property, and the threats the proposed route poses to sensitive environmental areas, here I will limit my comments to a very important procedural matter: public engagement.
Rover Pipeline, LLC has failed to comply adequately with basic conditions of the FERC pre-filing process and for that reason its application for a Certificate of Public Necessity and Convenience ought not to be accepted by FERC, much less approved.
In its order no. 665 (issued Oct. 7, 2005) mandating participation in the pre-filing process, FERC stressed that “it is desirable to maximize early public involvement to promote the wide-spread dissemination of information about proposed projects”and encouraged applicants “to cooperate with state and local officials, as required by EPAct 2005.” While Rover Pipelines, LLC has held a series of Open Houses along its pipeline route, those meetings, as clearly illustrated by the numerous and uniform comments of local officials listed below (it would be easy to produce dozens more similar comments from landowners), have in no way fulfilled Rover’s obligations as described by FERC. To wit:
Mundy Township Supervisor Dave Guigear said during the meeting he believes more people are concerned about the lack of transparency from Energy Transfer, parent company of ET Rover, rather than [sic] pipeline.
“Nobody I’ve encountered seems to be in favor of this project,” [Mundy Township attorney F. Jack] Belzer said. “There’s not a lot of information forthcoming from them that’s consistent.”
“I think it was an orchestrated disaster in terms of a meeting,” [Atlas Township Supervisor Shirley] Kautman-Jones said. “There was limited parking, the facility was way too small and they only had one set of maps for each county.”
Grand Blanc Township Supervisor Marilyn “Micki” Hoffman said ET Rover’s lack of transparency has raised questions among community leaders and residents. Grand Blanc Township has postponed voting on the issue in hopes of getting more clarity on the project “This hit us so fast and we had so many bad relationships established with ET Rover for how arrogant they were when surveying properties,” she said. “And the lack of transparency has also been an issue. We don’t want to rule it out, but at the same time we have a lot of unanswered questions.”
Instead of a podium with a few speakers, [attendees] walked into a packed hub of information boards and scattered Energy Transfer representatives. While there was a “Welcome” board, there was no rhyme or reason to the open house that Linden Mayor David Lossing referred to as a “debacle.”
Genesee County Commissioner Tony Brown (District 6) said, “When they don’t include local government in the discussion, my knee jerk reaction is to say it’s shady.” He pointed out that he had no side, for or against it, yet, but that at face value the secretiveness says something underhanded is going on.
“It was a well-orchestrated disaster,” said Kautman-Jones of the Rover meeting. “It was overcrowded and another thing I found really ridiculous is they had one table with a set of maps for each county. Of course, everyone wants to look at the Genesee County map, and you had to stand in line… They met the pre-filing application requirement of having a public meeting, but it definitely was not for the benefit of the public. They were just doing what was required.” “It’s hard to trust a company that is not being as forthcoming with information as you wish they would be,” [Kautman-Jones] said.
“I’m really frustrated because if this is how they treat elected officials, how are they treating property owners?” [Kautman-Jones] asked. “They aren’t even telling us what they are proposing to do. I feel (Rover) not giving information is a way to get to the filing process with as little opposition as possible. It takes people awhile to think about things and if your window of time keeps getting smaller and smaller, your response time is, too.”
[Ernest] Monroe agrees. The Hadley supervisor said he began receiving calls from concerned residents at the end of August. Rover never contacted the township, nor Lapeer County officials, he said, they just started showing up and surveying property.
“I can’t get good answers from Rover, they’ve just done a deplorable job,” said [Groveland Township Supervisor Robert] DePalma. “Now they’ve hired PR people that are going to come out. I’ve been in marketing for more than 30 years and this is the worst managed project I’ve ever seen… Facts have been extremely difficult to get from Rover.”
ET Rover has not endeared itself to [Oxford Township Supervisor Bill Dunn]. “To be quite frank, they jerked me around,” Dunn told the audience. “I’m not real happy with them.” “I don’t like being jerked around,” Dunn said. “They did lie to me . . . They were not forthright.”
[Fenton] Township Clerk Robert Krug said that when he attended the recent ET open house hosted at Spring Meadows in Linden, ET’s public relations representatives continually said they would find someone to answer questions they couldn’t, and never did. “Everybody had smiles, but nobody had answers,” said Krug.
[Fenton] Township Supervisor Bonnie Mathis said, “ET Rover says that they notified township supervisors, but they didn’t.”
State Representative Joseph Graves added, “They could have done it better and because they didn’t, now there are suspicions.”
Such comments convey the overwhelming sentiments of stakeholders along the proposed route in Michigan. Given such widespread dissatisfaction, how can FERC possibly believe that its procedures and processes are working as intended? For instance, in the FAQ for Gas Pre-Filing at the FERC website (under “What happens at open houses?”), it states:
The goal of the Commission’s pre-filing process is to notify all project stakeholders, including potentially affected property owners, so that Company and the Commission Staff can provide a forum to hear the issues relevant to those stakeholders. The Company may then incorporate proposed mitigation measures into the project design from comments received from stakeholders.
As the comments above make clear, stakeholders along the proposed route have NOT received adequate information nor do they believe that “issues relevant” to them have been heard. Rover’s mode of communication with stakeholders has precluded such productive exchanges. As a result, Rover has, at best, only complied with the letter of the pre-filing rule, merely going through the motions in the most perfunctory manner. Rover has certainly not adhered to the spirit of the rules. This makes a mockery of the process and suggests that Rover does not appear to take its obligations to FERC or to the public seriously. What is the point of requiring public engagement on the part of applicants if that engagement is only going to take place in the most superficial and ineffective way?
In its letter approving Rover’s pre-filing request, FERC states “that when ET Rover files its application with the Commission, we will evaluate the progress made during the pre- filing process.” From the point of view of the public, as represented by numerous local elected officials (not to mention dozens of landowners), Rover has made very little progress. I urge FERC to reject Rover’s application for its failure to fulfill even the most basic requirements of pre-filing as well as to protect the integrity of FERC’s own rules and procedures.
Groveland Township, MI